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BMA set to put pensions deal to a vote in New Year

Exclusive The BMA is set to put the Government’s final pensions offer to a vote of members in early January, with union leaders downbeat on the Treasury tabling an ‘acceptable’ pensions deal by today’s 3pm deadline.

The Treasury insists it will table a final public sector pensions deal by ‘the end of the year’, and media reports over the weekend suggest the Government is demanding unions sign up by 3pm today.

Speaking to Pulse, the BMA was downbeat on the chances of the Government offering a deal which will prove ‘acceptable to the profession’, and said it will consult members on the offer in early January – a move which could lead to a ballot on industrial action.

The move follows the announcement of proposed changes specific to the NHS pensions scheme by the Department of Health earlier this month, with a further rise in pensions contributions for most GPs to offset a new Government pledge to protect lower-earning NHS staff from contribution hikes.

Dr David Bailey, deputy chair of the BMA’s Pensions Committee and a GP in Cardiff told Pulse: ‘I think we will know on Tuesday what the final offer is but I don’t think it’s likely to be acceptable to the profession.’

‘We will be wanting to get out a consultation to as many members as we can in early January and we’ll be looking to take the profession’s temperature on what they feel about the deal and what they are prepared to consider.’

‘We have to consult our members before there is any question of a ballot [on industrial action].’

Union sources close to the talks told Pulse that negotiations were at a ‘delicate stage’ as today’s deadline loomed. However, barring a major last minute shift in ministers’ negotiating stance, they felt the Government was unlikely to make significant concessions beyond the offer tabled in early November covering all public sector pensions.

A Pulse poll earlier this month found that 70% of GPs would reject the current deal. Some 19% said they would accept the deal, and 11% were undecided. Asked how they would vote in a subsequent ballot on industrial action, 60% said they would vote for action, 27% against and 13% were undecided.

Last week, ministers said ‘it is necessary that we reach agreement [on pensions] by the end of the year’, but did not rule out the possibility of the Government imposing a pensions settlement on public sector workers if unions fa:iled to agree to a final offer.

Speaking in the House of Commons, cabinet minister Francis Maude said: ‘We very much hope that it will not be necessary for the Government to move to the stage of imposition. Our intention is that we should reach agreement. It is necessary that we reach agreement by the end of the year.’

The news comes as information obtained by Pulse under the Freedom of Information Act revealed that two-thirds of the 8,703 responses to the Department of Health’s pensions consultation came from template responses created by Pulse and the BMA.  The DH said that the ‘overwhelming majority’ of responses were also from GPs and doctors.

Despite the strength of opposition from GPs, the DH’s response to the consultation was to table a new NHS pensions offer that ramped up GP contributions. Announcing the offer, health secretary Andrew Lansley said the Department had ‘listened to staff and stakeholders.’

The BMA’s Dr Bailey told Pulse:‘I’m sure Mr Lansley listened but he’s either not paid any attention to it or he hasn’t heard it. The whole of public services are angry about pensions, but it appears that the Government is not going to move in any way shape or form.’

Updated 09:45, 19/12/01